Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ecolodge Experience

Last Sunday was Earth Day around the world, and it reminded me to post about an amazing and environmentally friendly place we stayed during our drive along the southern coast of Australia: the Great Ocean Ecolodge at the Cape Otway Centre for Conservation Ecology.

The electricity is from solar panels, the water from rainwater collection tanks, the irrigation from treated wastewater, the insulation largely from the passive-solar design. And all this is more than adequate to run a cozy lodge and a thriving wildlife rehabilitation center for orphaned or injured animals from the national park next door.

We arrived at the lodge just in time to join the daily guided dusk walk through the eucalyptus trees to see the wild koalas snoozing high in the branches. They weren’t very easy to spot from the ground...

...but it was worth it, as we found when we zoomed in for a closer look!

Twenty or so koala spottings later, we walked through a cool, damp fern gully to the edge of the forest. A kangaroo mob and a few swamp wallabies were grazing in the fading light. As we turned back toward the lodge, I was struck by how remote the place felt, and how quiet. That night was clear and perfect for stargazing. With no other lights around, we could see the whole Southern Hemisphere sky, filled to capacity with shining lights and huge swaths of the Milky Way. And while we watched, four shooting stars streaked across the sky.

The next morning, we joined one of the owners, a zoologist and marsupial expert, on her rounds caring for the animals at the Centre. I had just taken this photo when she surprised us by handing us each one of the bottles she was holding. So Joey fed the young kangaroo on the left, and I fed the little wallaby on the right.

Then we moved on to a small group of koalas, who were recovering from injuries from a brushfire a few months before. One of them, the oldest and sweetest of the group, was an unusual color; his outer, gray coat – a koala’s waterproofing for rain – had been burned off in the fire, leaving only the soft, red undercoat. So he will have a home at the Centre (and a place to duck into when it rains) until his gray topcoat regrows.

Last we went to a huge pen, right at the edge of the forest, for young kangaroos in their last stage of preparation for life in the wild. As we entered the pen, three heads perked up out of the tall grasses, and suddenly three chest-high kangaroos were bounding toward us, exactly like dogs excited for suppertime - but bigger, faster, and higher. We fed the joeys (with larger bottles this time), surreptitiously scratching their heads and running our fingers through their fuzzy fur. And afterward they happily followed us back to the gate to say good-bye.

1 comment:

JoLynn said...

cleveland zoo just had a new koala birth; we went to see the baby (now 5 months or so old) last week. it's adorable.